An Open Letter To Matt Krantz At USA Today

Dear Matt Krantz,

A few days ago, you were asked a question and I think you didn’t do the best job of answering, so I’m going  to rebut your reply here.  The question was “Is there a way to profit from patent trolls?” (Link here.)

OK first of all, this is totally not about you so no offense meant, but I take issue with the question-asker.  Although I’m no wordsmith**, the question is ambiguous as written.  Did s/he mean “Is there a way to make a profit by patent trolling, by buying sham patents and suing people over them even though you don’t contribute anything to society that actually uses that patent?”, or did s/he mean “Can I make money from a patent troll, perhaps by teaching them a trick or two, creating a viral YouTube video, and getting an appearance on the Today show?”  Because really, those are two entirely different questions.

As it turns out, it doesn’t matter which question was actually asked because the answer you provided a) isn’t even really an answer and b) doesn’t apply to either interpretation of the question.

Lets start with your definition of trolling:

For decades, companies would pour millions if not billions of dollars into research and development to create patents. These patents would often just sit around in research labs, and while companies felt they had value, they were never sure how much.

But that’s all changed as companies are waking up to the fact their patent and technology portfolios are valuable, especially if another company is infringing on them. Some companies are finding that competitors are illegally using their patented technology and are now asking them to pay royalties to keep using them.

This is not the most widely-accepted definition of patent troll, I don’t know if you knew that?  But nevertheless, I don’t think it’s so much that “companies are waking up to the fact [that] their patent and technology portfolios are valuable” so much as they are being shaken awake with a big ol’ air horn to the ears, blown by patent trolls looking to monetize anything they can get their hands on.

And then there’s this description of what Acacia Media does:

 Acacia then goes to the company it says is infringing on the patent, collects the royalty and then shares the payment with the patent owner.

What?  You make it sound like Acacia and their ilk are the resident Eagle Scout, standing  on a street corner in the old part of town awaiting sweet innocent elderly women who need a hand with their groceries as they cross the street, and then jumping in to provide all the assistance they need, taking only a portion of the change they got from their purchase as reimbursement for their kind deed.

That right there?  SO NOT WHAT PATENT TROLLS DO.  And you can’t say you didn’t think Acacia Media was a patent troll because the (albeit poorly worded) question was asking you about patent trolls and you answered with a description of Acacia Media.

Then you throw in this one-liner about the exact opposite of a patent troll:

Another company in the field is RPX, which helps companies protect themselves from patent claims.

I love that you mentioned them because they are one of the great American capitalism success stories, in that they saw a problem and are using a market-based solution to fight it.  I suppose it’s not wrong to say they are “in the field” of patent trolls, but a stronger distinction as to which side of the battle they’re on would have been nice.  They are not just there to help protect companies against patent infringement claims.  They are there to help protect companies against patent infringement claims brought on by patent trolls.

The very best part of your reply was the summary box, which I acknowledge that you may or may not have actually created because probably a cute summer intern does them for you.  But honestly, what is this?

USA Today Article

First foul?  Unnecessary single quotation marks on the words “patent trolls”.  Ten yard penalty, loss of down.

Secondly, does anyone use the term “cottage industry” these days?  (Note  correct usage of quotation marks.)

Lastly?  “…investors may want to look into it.”  Into what, patent trolling?  They already are, though you should ask Intellectual Ventures if their backers are happy with their returns…

Look Mr. Krantz, I’m not trying to be harsh, truly.  It’s just that I think you missed a great opportunity to educate, that’s all.  There are a lot of great folks out there doing a lot of great things to fight a problem that is costing this country in terms of real dollars and in lost innovation opportunities.  I may or may not be one of them.

You’re probably wishing you’d just taken the opportunity to talk by phone now, huh?


Just sayin’,


**Turns out?  I actually am a wordsmith.  Boggle says so.

Boggle…and because I’m nothing if not the most competitive person you’ll ever meet on the internet, I feel compelled to point out that that is not, by a long shot, my best score up there in the right-hand corner.  Someone who shall remain nameless (JOHN!) got a hold of my iPhone and messed with my Game Center account.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.